Very interesting film, solid story, interesting contemporary beat - with some punky alternative marginal comic book characters, very smartly packaged into a realistic enough outline.
The opera singing mom, sewing factory, room of the prostitutes, marriage w old men - not an especially nasty old man, but we see what limitations the super momma Anna also has to face. Anna, is a pretty enough woman. Very nicely believable. She was well cast, doesnt have the harsh face of someone who has no dreams. We see her deal with negotiation of price of a pass through a glass telephone booth while talking to her son long distance in China on the pay phone - being soft mamma and doing business at the same time; being human with fellow people in distress and need; being genteel and self help by getting online for marriage dating using a dictionary to get all the words down all by herself- self help; negotiation with a man who hold the financial source (but she could also go out if he refused... all made-up too, suggested if you dont give me the money, I go out myself and get it); this is what is in Chinese - living ordinary life from day to day - the new husband is a v gd actor. He shows just the right amount of human doubt and kindness. He celebrates Christmas with her, like a family. Anna is being treated right. Finally later, he asked when is her son coming? He accepts her, with her son. Its family. Though she replied, no need. China is more energetic than France. Her reason to be in France is economic, and now the situation has changed. Also amusing she checks his id card to make sure she didnt make a mistake – its a marriage for practical reasons, and then also some love. Gentle companionship, love.
The young croate boy with super kungfu moves and croatie rap song bringing into the story a dimension of a larger than France/Belleville angle it spks of a generation of new Chinese immigrants - finally goes to Shanghai by self induced expulsion - the beautiful colorful place, where noodle makers smiles even if their job are sweaty - the new China speaks of a dream coming true. That opportunities are ripe, better days are here.
In parallel, we see the Anna character from sidewalk prostitute to marriage with an older gentleman to staying in France to become the partner of a future import export business with her son being the other partner in China.
The young girl with her puppy love over, marries a local small sewing business boss and we could see her becoming the boss herself. She married into a family of kindness with immigrant experience.
The movie has enough color, story and reality to make it much more than a "discover the dirt" type of stereotypical story of recent immigrants. The director Show is an anthropologist and maybe because of this, the story has much deeper threads and understanding than your usual exotic-immigrant-hardship-stereotype in 13th arrondissement Chinese in France movie.
I slightly compared it to the movie by Zhia ZhangKe - movie set in Venise of another immigrant running a cafe. The Belleville movie is very colorful with much research - the other the Venise one is also sober w a profound poetic feeling. Also comes to mind the movie Gomorroh - that scene of factory workers, eating and drinking w plastic cups; how the factory workers treat the teacher. These are all realistic each with its own stylistic invention and mood.
I would say, Bravo! To director Show Chun Lee. Some parts could be played up a bit more, why does the seamstress seem so in love w the Croate boy? Its a way out of the sewing sweat shop? As a character she is rather stoic and kind of silent without revealing her inner person. She could have been played up just a little bit more to show her feelings, whether its simple, or more complex. What attracts her to the "thuggish" non-Chinese spking boy? There is something to be developed here. After all she has a more than passing role in the film. Could reveal a little bit more about the girl if possible (here I think, you have a chance to get a youthful sexy cute girl, eye candy, puppy love humour, sexy opportunities – wasted wasted. To give an example, we see Zhou Xun in all these urban lost youth movies, why Zhou Xun? Because she is cute and gd looking and great actress! No opportunities wasted! ), then we see in interaction, is the Croate boy really a thug? Could he have been non-thug, what options are open to him in his situation? The rap is fun, and smartly tells the Croate boy story.
Now, what does this movie bring us to?
At a deeper level, this is what life is.
Like the human trafficking boss and his mother - there was no wife in the film - the mom sings SuSan Qi Jie. A very famous piece of Beijing Opera, its fast symbol flashing old culture china, pop culture and high culture at the same time. The story of SuSan Qi Jie is about wrong doing - SuSan is on the way to prison due to some wrong doing of bad guys. Here the man is looking for his wife, wrongly pushed to death in some intrique - and the mom talks about being no-spking evil, no-seeing evil, no-hearing evil. Good good. Efficient.
The man is sitting drinking tea with his Croate friend, his eyes shifted left, right, left, right... danger coming. (I find his eye shifting too much.) Hes the right physique for the role and is believable to be sentimental.
In all this, why is it a good movie? I like it, though I had worried that it would turn out to be another exotic cheap talk about Chineseness - immigrants and all/any related thing from China.
I found this nice mix of current urban/comic culture and reality is quite successful. Its got flesh, blood and much real data behind.
We are happiest when we could live in a society and do things properly in a group - whether you are noodle maker, sand shifter - you are in your own rightful place. As immigrant, there is always the push of the exterior person coming in trying to merge. How could they know that they are doing well, or the-right-thing? By what ropes do they go? If the outsider did not bother to merge, then the outsider is probably an invader. Like the stronger types who descend on the locals and do not bother to even learn the local language, that is also a finger wagging no no.
Secondly, in life, this "joining", "merging" phase happens at all levels, at a job, at home in your village, growing up. In the end, when the road is smooth, each person finds their way.
The movie is positive, everybody has a brighter future and calmer settled life ahead in spite of the hardship of the beginning.
Showing so much at so many levels. Acting, smoothness of story line all these other things are overpowered by the real research where the story is grounded. Amateur acting, too quick romance telling, not enough details in certain parts... all this is just that.
Isnt this already a beautiful work?